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Build more housing

The National Association of Realtors has called on U.S. policymakers to do more to address the lack of stock in the nation’s housing market, saying that the situation has become “dire” and that “now is the time to act”.

The NAR’s report, Housing Is Critical Infrastructure: Social and Economic Benefits of Building More Housing, highlights both the causes of housing shortages and suggests several potential solutions that could be implemented by local and federal-level policymakers.

The report claims that the U.S. has suffered from a shortfall of between 5.5 million and 6.8 million housing units since 2001.

“There is a strong desire for homeownership across this country, but the lack of supply is preventing too many Americans from achieving that dream,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun in a statement. “It’s clear from the findings of this report and from the conditions we’ve observed in the market over the past few years that we’ll need to do something dramatic to close this gap.”

The NAR’s report claims America faces a chronic shortage of affordable and available homes to support its population. One of the main reasons for this shortage is the lack of new construction in the country and prolonged underinvestment, which it said has bento the detriment of the U.S. public and its economy.

“The scale of underbuilding and the existing demand-supply gap is enormous,” the report read. “[It] will require a major national commitment to build more housing of all types.”

As far as fixing the problem goes, the report made several recommendations. First, it calls for lawmakers to remove construction barriers that could help to incentivize new developments. The NAR report also highlighted a suggestion from an earlier study, State and Local Policy Strategies to Advance Housing Affordability, that recommends lawmakers pursue solutions through fiscal policy measures and policies aimed at increasing the supply of housing. It also calls for reform of zoning policies in many U.S. cities.

NAR President Charlie Oppler said in conclusion that a number of factors over the past two decades were responsible for the “massive housing investment gap” seen in the U.S. today. But instead of dwelling on those problems, what’s more important is to act urgently to find solutions to the housing crisis and provide more stability for future markets.

He explained that by increasing housing construction, not only will there be more much-needed inventory. It could also create an estimated 2.8 million jobs and $50 billion worth of new, nationwide tax revenue.

“Additional public funding and policy incentives for construction will very clearly provide huge benefits to our nation’s economy, and our work to close this gap will be particularly impactful for lower-income households, households of color, and millennials,” Oppler said.

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“Despite the month-to-month trend or even year-to-year changes, America is facing a massive housing shortage due to multiple years of underproduction in

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relation to population growth. We estimate around 5.5 to 6.8 million additional housing units need to be built. America is on track for only 1.6 million and 1.7 million new housing units this year and next, respectively. That would represent the best two-year performance in 15 years, yet it would still be inadequate. Therefore, expect both rents and home prices to outpace overall consumer price inflation in the upcoming years.”

Lawrence Yun – NAR Cheif Economist

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I attended the Boston 2012 symposium on Thursday & Friday. It was awesome. There was a tour of several of Boston’s neighborhoods, on Thursday. We saw new low- and moderate-income based housing developments, some of which were financed by the city, state and federal governments, some built with private funds. The amount of money invested over the past half-decade in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury is amazing. You can see the positive results on every block. (Drive down Blue Hill Ave, for example, and you’ll see what I mean.)

Boston is an expensive city in which to live. It’s also really expensive to build here.

And, in the suburbs, it’s even worse.

I grew up in a fairly wealthy community, in Topsfield. Next doo, was Boxford, which happens to have been the topic of an article in today’s Globe.

Here are some statistics about Boxford:

Miles from Boston: 25
Population: 8,177 (2005)
Median house price: $620,000

Census facts: Median family income is $119,491 compared to the national rate of $50,046; 63 percent held a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 24 percent nationally.

Nice, eh?

Here’s the problem, though:

Boxford has resolutely resisted urbanization by maintaining a 2-acre minimum lot size; just 7 percent of land is assessed as commercial. And to preserve the rural look of the town, nearly every street is officially considered a scenic road and town rules require homeowners to seek approval before they can dislodge a rock wall or a tree.

Yeah, 2-acre minimums have a way of keeping a neighborhood “charming”, don’t they?

Most towns in Massachusetts have these sorts of restrictions.

Meanwhile, everyone complains about the high-cost of housing in the Commonwealth.

Supply and demand, right?

Richard Syron, CEO of Freddie Mac (and past president of the American Stock Exchange and Federal Reserve Bank of Boston) talked about this during his speech at the conference.

Freddie Mac CEO Syron expects subprime crisis to worsen – Associated Press, by way of The Boston Herald

“Our big problem in cities like Boston … is the (housing) supply side. We’re never going to solve the housing affordability problem unless we face that.”

Policy makers should more closely examine whether zoning restrictions and land-use policies are too strict to allow more affordable housing, and many residents of established neighborhoods should examine why they frequently back such restrictions, he said.

“You can’t say you’re in favor of affordable housing if you want stricter zoning, if you want all kinds of conditions on development,” Syron said.

The solution to the problem of high housing prices isn’t to artificially support the low-end of the market with subsidies for the lower-income population and affordable-housing set-asides.

It’s to open up the market completely, allowing supply and demand to set the terms of the market.

Only then will you get more housing.

If you think the current slowdown in home sales volume will lead to a decrease in housing prices, you’re mistaken. It just won’t happen (at least during our generation). If you want lower prices, something else has to change.

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Updated:  2021

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